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Brand Taglines Part IV: How taglines should work with brand names

By Drew Letendre

This is part of a series on brandlines. Take time to review the other posts on brand taglines.
How important is it that a brandline work with a brand name (they are after all attached at the hip)? The rule of thumb is best expressed negatively: a brandline should never work against the brand name with which it is locked up and thus associated. I use this more relaxed standard for several reasons.

One is that not every sort of name is conventionally meaningful. So, there can be no question of aligned (or misaligned) meanings. For example, eponymously-named businesses (e.g., Johnson and Johnson, Wyeth, and RiechesBaird) are irrelevant to the requirement. Likewise, highly synthetic names (empty vessels), as we see so often with pharmaceutical products, are also impervious to the requirement. To take just one example, Accenture and its brandline, ‘Performance delivered’.

If you’re like most people, you don’t know that Accenture means ‘accent on the future’ — that it is a derivation or compression of that brandline-like phrase. In that case, it is — for all intents and purposes — a piece of virtual linguistic nonsense. So, how can ‘Performance delivered’ relate to it? Elaborate it? Explain it? Enhance it? It really can’t.

Even on the assumption that you possess the key to the meaning of ‘accenture,’ how does ‘Performance delivered’ really extrapolate it, underscore it, explain it, etc.? It really doesn’t. Accenture is about the future and the ‘Performance’ in question, was apparently delivered in the past. So, what do they mean to each other? Not much, I’d say. But, for all that, they certainly don’t cross swords either. And that is okay. And that is my point.

Even where a brand name has a commonly understood meaning (e.g., Caterpillar, apple, Puma) that consistently and universally evokes common images and associations, we shouldn’t be too quick to stretch the tagline against the procrustean bed of the name.How does ‘Think different’ play off ‘apple’? Or, more to the point, does it really need to? Thinking creatively — which is what apple’s tagline bids us to do — has as much to do with apples, as do apples with oranges, if you will.

Relatively speaking, names stand forever. Brandlines, while they don’t shift with the wind, are more variable, adaptable, and short-lived. They have a different function. They can have a longer leash on meaning, precisely because they have a shorter lease on life — and a different purpose. Brandlines, names, and in the case of signatures, visual symbols, partake of a division of labor. The name can say one thing, the brandline another, the symbol (and its properties of color and shape) express another, or simply establish mere feeling tones and give the brand its persona or the name (lyric) its musical score.

So, while a brandline should — as we say in the business — ‘lock up to’ a name (graphically), it is free to range about in their sphere of meaning.

Making brandlines work with names isn’t easy. If you need some solid advice, turn to BrandingBusiness.